Thursday, April 03, 2008

God Grew Tired of Us: Noticing A Different Type of Starvation

"It's difficult here in America. Everybody goes to work. You have different schedules, you have different work. No time even for family to be together." -Daniel Abol Pach, 1 year after being in America

"In the United States, people are not friendly. You can find someone that's walking in the street by himself, you know, don't even talk, you know. You cannot go to the house of somebody you don't know, though you are all Americans. They call the police and say, 'why did this guy come to my house? I don't know him.' But in Sudan, they can ask you, 'Have you got lost? Are you new to this place?' They can ask you that You say, 'I'm new to this place,' they can show you where you are. You can even talk with's a great shame actually." - Panther Bior, 1 year after being in America

I've been interested in seeing the documentary God Grew Tired of Us ever since it won the Grandjury and Audience Awards at Sundance in 2006 (I mentioned it then). The narrated by Nicole Kidman & produced by Pitt, Keener & co. the movie tells the story about some of the "Lost Boys of Sudan" given the opportunity to come and establish themselves in America after a treacherous journey through the dangerous and vegetationless portions of Africa in order to escape massive killings and sterilizations of males in south Sudan by Northern Muslim Sudanese.

While there are many interesting aspects to this documentary, one of the thoughts that really struck me was that while some of these young men were given the opportunity to escape the starvation, disease, and death of the Lost Boys camps in southern Africa, they were struck with a different type of starvation.

They were struck with loneliness, isolation, and separation. Not just from their friends and families back home, but with humanity, the people that lived around them. Some of this was attributed to the life style of working hard, various jobs that kept many transported friends from getting time together. But even more so, it was the unwelcoming, unhospitable, and uninterested tendencies of American citizens, simply to not interact at all. Not to be co-humans with the Sudanese transplants. And it wasn't that they felt like Americans were mean, harsh, negative, violent, or malicious. No, it was simpler that that...they just found Americans to be unfriendly.

I've mentioned in a handful of post here about the challenges and realities of isolation and loneliness that is so prevalent in our Western world. And I see such a great present of starvation of the soul that occurs in the isolation and independence we create in our "modern societies."

While not the main message of the documentary, a power message I saw in the film was that food, clothing, job, self-sufficiency, shelter, electricity, pride, these things are not enough. We also desperately need relationship and interdependence.


Anonymous said...

If you came to my house, I would not make you leave. In fact I would even feed you and let you stay as long as you want.

Heather said...

I currently have been starving for actual human contact. It's virtually impossible, I'm finding, to get my neighbors to even smile at me, much less to talk to me. I can't meet people since my move, short of the people I've met at church. Everyone else looks at me like I have devil horns growing out of my head if I try to strike up a conversation. It's like a fear of strangers has made people act like they are only safe if they are completely coccooned. Let me tell you, there's no point in being safe if you're isolated.

Thanks for your posts looking at this extremely relevant topic in my life right now. I've enjoyed your perspective.

Terence Towles Canote said...

Well, I don't think it has always been this way. There was a time when people in the States were a lot friendlier than they once were. It was back in the day when my father would actually pick up hitchhikers and when we would actually give food and water to people who came to the house. Sadly, it seems those days are long gone.

Magnus said...

It is like that up here - hell, I'm like that. Some guy started talking to me and I was looking for the angle, waiting for the hit-up. There was none, he just wanted to talk to someone.
People around us were uncomfortable - Two strangers talking? Are they going to try talking to me? - There were a couple of cold stares in my direction like I had broken some unspoken social more.
I am 37 and single. Probably will be single for the rest of my life. My friends have or are starting families. We are growing apart. Family is drifting and my parents won't be around forever. Am I going to end up some sad, lonely old man trying to talk to people at the bus stop?

jasdye said...

great post, rc.

there's a lot to be said for this social disconnect in the US and for the way we alienate those who are not only different from us, but are not familiar to us - or rather familial to us.


I appreciate your post:) This film should be part of school curriculum. I saw the film and John Dau at church--but everybody doesn't go there and ome to think about it, everybody doesn't go to school either. I think we should broadcast this on every channel--like those govt. interruptions...but then everyone doesn't have televis--wait, yes they do. I don't. But I'm blessed:)
Will blog about this film in the future.

Anonymous said...

This film is a very valuable tool for the study of diversity and cultural issues. What a great way to look at the culture of the United States, through the eyes of a Sudanese refugee.